Change on horizon for MV Whisman

School officials propose revisions to boundaries, class size in the face of growing enrollment

School officials contemplated big changes last week as they discussed a possible overhaul of the Mountain View Whisman School District's policies — such as boundaries and class sizes — in order to meet the demands of rising enrollment.

The discussion put trustees in the position of trying to prioritize their educational values in the face of some big variables: rapidly rising enrollment numbers, plus a shift in the district to Basic Aid status.

Whatever changes are finally implemented could mean adjustments to school boundaries, enrollment policies, bus routes and school and class sizes.

Among the proposals presented at last week's board meeting, one proved especially controversial: new school boundaries that would mostly affect areas feeding into Castro and Monta Loma. Administrators noted that, if implemented, the change would probably not take affect until 2011-12 because of an unsafe crossing at Rengstorff and Central Expressway. Also, it would only pertain to new families in the district, and would not displace current students at those schools or their siblings.

While some trustees said it is more important for students to be able to attend their neighborhood school, others said maintaining diversity should be a priority.

"We know that low-income Hispanic and low-income African-American students often do worse in their neighborhood school than if they go to a different school," said trustee Ellen Wheeler. She pointed out that the current proposal would shift an area currently assigned to Bubb over to Castro, which serves a higher population of low-income families and scores lower on standardized tests.

"It troubles me," she told fellow board members, "and I don't have a solution for us. I don't have a formula, but it troubles me."

She called for board members and administrators to get creative while keeping in mind the needs of the Castro neighborhood students. She emphasized that she felt Castro administrators and teachers were doing their job, but that underserved students historically do better in higher-achieving schools.

"I'm uncomfortable about moving this boundary," she said. "And if we do move the boundary I'd like to see us do something to help those kids."

Home schooling

At an earlier session, a proposal was made to eliminate the district's $150,000 independent study program (ISP), which currently serves 50 students, only 15 of whom live within district boundaries. Craig Goldman, chief financial officer for the district, said if the cut was eventually made, there are alternatives for families that want to continue home schooling.

Judy Zellers, whose daughter tried out both middle schools before opting to do ISP, told board members that the program provides an important service for students who don't thrive in traditional public school settings.

"The ISP program could easily fill with families from the district if it were publicized within the district," she said, adding that for the past few years the program has been at full capacity just by word of mouth.

Zellers told the Voice that if the program is cut, she may try to find an alternative home school program for her daughter. But she noted that "cost is an issue" — the program provides parents with textbooks free of charge —and that she would lose out on the guidance provided by ISP resource teachers.

Bus routes, PI

Also on the agenda at Thursday's meeting was the topic of transportation. The proposed plan includes eliminating morning pick-ups at all schools except Castro. Other home-to-school stops that would be spared include Creekside Park, Space Park Way and Whisman Park.

"The idea would be ... that none of the schools other than Castro would have a pick-up," Goldman said.

He added that right now buses running from Castro to other district schools are usually very full, but buses that make morning pick-ups at most other schools are almost empty.

Goldman said the previous policy was to create a stop for any student who filled out a bus application. Currently, he told trustees, there are buses making stops for only one or two students, and that is simply not efficient.

A related consideration in making the changes is Monta Loma and Theuerkauf's Program Improvement (PI) status under the federal government's No Child Left Behind act. Because students at PI schools have the option of transferring to another school, the district is required to provide free transportation to those who request it.

It remains to be seen if any parents will elect to move their children from these schools, though one Theuerkauf parent at the meeting said he didn't believe there would be any sort of exodus due to PI status.

"In the five years I've been a parent (at Theuerkauf) I think the school has improved dramatically," he told trustees. "I don't see that any parents are upset about this or have any plans to leave the school."

Class size

In terms of class size, Goldman told trustees that the current proposal would allow up to 25 students in K-3 classes if necessary. This would give the district flexibility in utilizing its facilities while still allowing it to receive special funding from the state based on class size reduction.

Due to growing enrollment, the district wants to provide its most crowded schools — those with more than 600 students — with an additional staff member to help with administrative duties. Goldman said the person would not necessarily have to be someone credentialed in administration. The school currently closest to that mark is Bubb, with 562 students.

While policies are revised every year, the district's new Basic Aid status — where funding is based largely on property taxes regardless of the number of students — puts this year's exercise in uncharted territory. Rising enrollment numbers will mean less money per student under the Basic Aid funding model.

Trickier still, administrators say, in an unstable economic climate the district may be drifting in and out of Basic Aid and Revenue Limit status in the coming years.

Administrators will make revisions to the proposals based on Thursday's meeting and present them at the next board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 15.

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3 people like this
Posted by Bubb Parent
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Oct 7, 2009 at 6:07 pm

The board needs to take a hard look at the district's personnel polices as well. I question the qualification and placement of certain principals based on personal relationships and not qualifications or performance. I also question the manner in which principals are hired and moved. I also question the manner in which many hard-working professional teachers have been side-lined by the cult of a singular chauvinist personality. I also think that the board needs to review the manner in which the district manages teachers as well as administrators. And finally, I think the board needs to put an end to constant raises and perks for the administration while teachers are expected to wait until 2011 for another raise while their benefits are slashed.

3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 8, 2009 at 5:13 am

[Post removed due to violation of our Terms of Use]

3 people like this
Posted by Sara
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Oct 8, 2009 at 6:29 am

Well said Observer.

"Laser-like" focus on what's best for children and our schools? I don't think so.

[Editor's Note: This remark by "Sara" was sent by the exact same IP address as "Observer." It is a violation of our Terms of Use to make multiple postings under different names in order to create the illusion of a chorus of agreement. Just make your point and let it stand.]

3 people like this
Posted by Andrew
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 8, 2009 at 8:57 am

I think the problems start with the MVWSD board, which has been overly supportive of the superintendent. For example, the board has supported the CI initiative, which seems to be a misapplication of corporate management theory to the elementary school environment.

An overly top-down approach just does not work in education. If teachers don't have a real voice in planning, grand plans pushed down from above (like CI) will run aground in the reality of the classroom. I have never had the impression that the board has made a real attempt to engage and listen to teachers.

3 people like this
Posted by sickened parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 8, 2009 at 9:15 am

Once again our Children and Teachers suffer...... Our children don't always feel safe at school, they work harder and are dumped hours of homework so that the schools ratings are a "10". Children don't always have the things they need at school, programs are cut. Parents are now the ones to supply classroom equipment, paper towels, antiseptic, kleenex, teachers markers..... THIS IS PATHETIC!!!!

Teachers work 6 days a week and extra hours planning, managing, and preparing for class and students. Check how many teachers are at school on the weekends - i think you would be surprised.

BUT... yet we have a superintendent that does not seem to care much about the individual Child/Student. A superintendent that does not return parents phone calls or address their issues.
[Portion removed]
But I have an idea... instead of having a spine and dealing with the problem once again I am sure it will be swept under the district/board RUG. And on top of that lets give the spineless cheater a 2% increase and sign him to a 4 year extension.

Does'nt anyone realize the difference between Right and Wrong?
Makes you think twice about leaving your children in his school where having NO MORALS seems to be the way to live.

Gosh.... If I had an ounce of hindsight, I would have to become an advocate for Homeschooling.

3 people like this
Posted by another parent
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 8, 2009 at 11:44 am

I agree with the above comment, budgets are a bigger issue. It is also too sad that when we are so short of $$ and everyone is being told that they will not get any increase for 2 years min, that somehow our Superintendent (who many, many feel is not doing such a great job) and now is having improper relations with school employees that report directly to him... he is the one that gets the increase.... It's a matter of principal.... who do we reward?

3 people like this
Posted by Elaine
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 1:50 pm

I really agree with Andrew about the "misapplication of corporate management theory to elementary environment" - this is painfully true. The board needs to take a more objective look at the Supe's performance. The CI concept is a bust. Try asking teachers for their honest opinion (this might be difficult for them to share though, as they don't want to be viewed as going against the district). The lower grade teachers have told me it really isn't applicable to young kids. Most have told me they don't have time for this stuff and it is just yet another requirement they have to keep up with. They post some things on their boards to make it look like they are practicing it, but in the day to day whirlwind they don't have the time.
The administration of this district needs to spend more time focusing on teaching methods of ACTUAL curriculum and how to capture and motivate students. They spend too much time with gimmicks or business jargon or with ridiculous GOAL playtime field trip rewards where students miss days of school. The Assst. Super. also needs to come up with some more solid curriculum programs. Programs like CI or "student led conferences" or GOAL rewards are politics to take the onus off the staff to come up with actual curriculum and focuses it back on the students.

As for budget cuts, the cuts always end up affecting the students and teachers! And it affects the parents in the wallet to pick up the extra slack. Upper management never takes cuts. The school board needs to wake up and stop having the administration tell them what to do.

3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2009 at 2:41 pm

What happened to Huff School?

3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 8, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Do the Terms of Use state that everyone has to have their own computer and IP address? Many people share that computer. Just thought I'd point that out.

3 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2009 at 9:00 am

"Which is it? Scores need to be raised, or NCLB needs to go?"

Actually, it's both, but NCLB needs to be revised. Different from saying it's needs to go.

Districts (not just this one) are well within their rights to complain about the flawed elements of NCLB(and it is flawed), but they still are under the gun to raise scores at all costs. Which is part of the flawed aspect of NCLB. It puts the focus on scores, not necessarily on learning.

3 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 9, 2009 at 3:56 pm

I'd just like to point out that home school students do very well and have contributed to higher scores in the API for this district. Also, transfer students have provided many dollars for this district for many years. For years MVWSD has talked about wanting to attract students with "magnets" like Dual Immersion and Parent Participation type programs. The Independent Study Program has been one of those programs that is highly successful in attracting participants and in many years has been filled to capacity with students on waiting lists to get in. I find it irresponsible of the district to automatically want to cut the program just because it has many out of district transfers in it. Los Altos has gone in and out of "basic aid" status for years. Kicking faithful transfer students out (many students participate from grade school through 8th grade) and shutting down a highly successful program in the first year MVWSD becomes basic aid is a knee jerk reaction. What happens in subsequent years if MVWSD becomes "limited revenue" once again - we beg the transfers to come back??

Besides, in the article, Ms. Zeller has a good point. If the district simply promoted the ISP as an option for MV students, like they do the other programs within the district more, it would probably have a lot more MV participants. Most parents do not know the program exists. We didn't until another family told us about it. It offers students and families another choice than just conventional ways of schooling without having to transfer out of the district to private schools.

One of the biggest problems this district has had for years and years is their "reactive" approach rather than a "proactive" approach. And this causes so much turmoil within the community too. Just think about when student attendance started to decline they shut down Slater to save money and relocated students to other schools and the Parent Participation program to Castro. Then they decide the attendance is up within a couple of years and they have to pay out all kinds of money to relocate the Parent Participation program yet again. Recommending to shut down the Independent Study Program next year is just yet another piece of evidence of short term planning. This district badly needs some long term vision.

3 people like this
Posted by Carlos Hereda
a resident of Castro City
on Oct 9, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Why is it that every time there's a change in boundaries, Huff Elementary's boundaries are never considered for change? Why can't they also share in the burden of under-served students?

3 people like this
Posted by parent to be
a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 9, 2009 at 6:08 pm

What, change the boundary so Huff takes in more HIspanic and African American students...thus lowering the highest API scores in Mtn. View??? Are you kidding? That would be absurd!

I guess the folks at Bubb don't want the lower-scoring kids at their school either. If they change the boundaries expecting the higher scores from students on the border, those families will just send their kids to private school or will refuse to send them to Castro.

They're worried about the scores tanking now that PACT is gone from Castro...even the principal said it herself. So the idea is to change the boundary to get more middle and upper income kids at Castro. You really thinks those parent will send their kids to Castro now that PACT is gone...think again!

3 people like this
Posted by MVWSD Volunteer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 11, 2009 at 7:47 am

I think the fidelity check list that the district office makes teachers use for Continuous Improvement, might be better made use of by district office personnel. The process is time consuming and hollow and none of the teachers I've worked with need it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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